Potboilers, fantasy lands, murders, noir triumphs, supernatural creatures, and the twisted, thrilling, and dark imaginations that devise them are hardly a male-only literary province. Since Mary Shelley imagined Frankenstein on a night in Switzerland, women have been creating genre fiction alongside men, playing with vampires, dragons, detectives, unreliable narrators, and denizens of outer space. So pack some of these classic genre novels by women in your canvas tote and enjoy reading them this summer at the beach, the pool, or just snuggled up to your air conditioning unit.
Wild Magic, Tamora Pierce
The first of Pierce’s beloved Immortals series, Wild Magic introduces us to Daine, a girl with special powers who can talk to animals and seeks vengeance for her murdered family.
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
LeGuin’s fascinating exploration of androgyny shows her strengths as both a brilliant world-builder and a philosopher.
Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
Christie wrote dozens of mysteries with memorable twist endings, but this one, in which all the characters are trapped together on a train, is one of her most daring detective novel feats.
Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
The Sookie Stackhouse mystery novels, which are really a hybrid of mystery, fantasy, and chick lit, lost steam after seven or eight books, but the first few are fantastically sexy, funny, and creepy — and Sookie is a charming narrator.
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
A feminist twist on the Arthurian legends that has become a fantasy classic in its own right.
The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley
McKinley is one of fantasy’s most beloved feminist voices, and this saga of Aerin Dragon-Killer’s rise is her definitive work.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Shades of Frankenstein can be found in every zombie movie and every robot takeover plot (looking at you, Age of Ultron). But the original is worth reading for both its suspense and its philosophical and emotional depth.
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
Butler’s epic Earthseed series is about religion, empathy, and destiny at the end of one world and the beginning of a new one.
Interview With the Vampire, Anne Rice
Lestat is immortal not just because he feasts on blood, but because of the incredible lasting power of Rice’s characterization in this, the horror writer’s most famous vampire novel.
Cover Her Face, P.D. James
James introduced us to Adam Dalgliesh, her verse-scribbling sleuth, and her own ability to write gritty, excellent British detective fiction with piercing insight and suspense.
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
Dense, mesmerizing, and textually indebted to Stoker’s Dracula and the Vlad the Impaler legends that spawned him, Kostova’s novel is unforgettably atmospheric.
Ink, Sabrina Vourvoilias
A futuristic look at the way we treat immigrants and foreign bodies, Voirvoulias’ book uses genre as a way to train a lens on the brutality of our world.
Flower Net, Lisa See
See’s debut thriller, the first in a series, is a high-stakes tale of global intrigue between China and the US.
Fingersmith, Sarah Waters
A crime novel set among Victorian-era lesbian pickpockets, this is the book that put Waters on the map as one of the creepiest and most compelling living writers.
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
The book that launched a thousand “Cool Girl” thinkpieces, Gone Girl also heralded the recent rise of female-driven noir novels.
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood.
A science fiction novel nested within — and commenting on — a realist novel, but no one knows which stories are reliable. Sheer genius, unputdownable.
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
The mistress of psychological thrillers creates her most memorable character, the false identity-assuming, murderous Tom Ripley, who will do anything to be able to live a life of leisure.
The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin’s novel about utopian and dystopian societies on distant planets is so much more than an allegory about the Cold War: it asks whether we are capable of building a better world.
Kindred, Octavia Butler
A science fiction novel that exposes the inhumanity of slavery while incorporating an incredible conceit: the time-traveling protagonist must keep her slave-owning ancestor alive just long enough to create her own bloodline.
Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith
The thriller that inspired Hitchcock: trading murders, psychopaths, and alter egos. Oh my!
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Atwood’s dystopian tale of a world where gender and reproduction are regulated by religious fanatics is not only a chilling story, but also a handy reference for what the future might be when your legislators try to interfere with reproductive rights.
A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
Harkness has earned a huge following with her series about an ancient manuscript that leads the historian protagonist into quite a few supernatural adventures.